|Joshua Loveland, Norm Carr, Rick Groth, David Hartson, Teresa Beck, Jason Karp, Karel Stroethoff|
On Saturday, September 8, 2012, a small band of randonneurs conquered the Going to the Sun 300K brevet. 187+ miles of beauty, thrills, wind, and traffic.
I was joined by fellow Montanans Karel Stroethoff and Joshua Loveland, and out-of-staters Norm Carr and Rick Groth from Washington, and David Hartson and Teresa Beck from California. The 7 riders was a new record turnout for a brevet for me-so I was really excited!
Brenda was with me at 4:30 AM in Whitefish to get everybody signed in. It was a chilly morning, and it turned breezy on the way to West Glacier.
The climb on the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier Park is wonderful. It climbs at a very consistent 6% or so and only tops out at a little over 6,600 feet. So it's quite a bit easier than the Beartooth Highway, and a climb any reasonably fit cyclist can do. I highly recommend it.
There was some road construction on the ascent with about 5 miles or so of hard packed, soon-to-be paved surface which slowed us down some. We also had to wait about 30 minutes or so for a pilot car to lead us through the construction. The delay was unwelcome, but the flaggers were fun to talk to and impressed with what we were doing, and after the cars went by we had the road all to ourselves for a long ways until the pilot cars came back down leading another line of cars.
It was a bonehead move on my part to have the first checkpoint on the route at the top of Logan Pass. It's not really fair to slower climbers and the construction delays caused some of the riders to be late into the checkpoint by a few minutes. However with the powers vested in me by RUSA as the RBA I extended the opening time of the checkpoint due to the construction delays. All the riders were back on time by the next checkpoint in East Glacier-so no harm done. In hindsight I should have put a checkpoint at Lake McDonald Lodge before the climb and at St. Mary after the descent when riders would have had a chance to catch up.
The East side of the park is much drier and vegetation is not as lush, but the views of Lake St. Mary, as we screamed down the mountain, were spectacular. Unfortunately, forest fire smoke, which has plagued all of Montana for most of the summer, was coming in and spoiling the more distant views. It was also heating up as we headed to the ultra roly terrain between St. Mary and East Glacier.
We started off from St. Mary with a six mile climb at about 8%, much steeper than the Going to the Sun climb, and then had a few short up and downs before tackling the long and hot Looking Glass Hill. The scenery was amazing, but the ride was suddenly really, really hard! The descent into the East Glacier was most welcome.
East Glacier was an open control, but I think everybody chose Brownie's Bakery, Deli, and Store as their checkpoint at the advice of Karel, who had ridden most of the route the week before for his Crown of the Continent permanent. For me personally, the cinnamon roll at Brownies had healing powers. It truly was one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had and it really recharged my batteries for the final stretch.
The final major climb of the route, and usually the easiest, is Marias Pass on US Highway 2. Marias Pass is the lowest continental divide crossing in Montana, but it was greatly supplemented by a 20 mile per hour headwind. US 2 also had soul stealing fresh chip seal for about 40 miles to help add to the misery. Thankfully, the wind died down somewhere around Essex where the course direction changes. The final mostly downhill run between Essex and West Glacier became easier.
The last stretch between West Glacier and Whitefish was in the dark-just as it was that morning. Only now the traffic was fast and furious (and probably mostly drunk). US 2 is the major East-West route in this part of the state, and there's no interstate highways, so it carries everything. I was hoping that with it being after Labor Day, and later in the evening that traffic would be light, but that was not the case. Most of US 2 has a shoulder, except for a two mile section where the road is jammed between a canyon wall and the middle fork of the Flathead River. Here there is no shoulder at all and no place for a cyclist to go to get out of the way. Despite this danger, the local motorists had no interest in slowing down even a little bit, buzzing by way too close or forcing on coming traffic almost into the ditch. It was terrifying and something I need to consider if ever doing this route again. There does exist a 7 or 8 mile detour, but that route has some gravel road. When I planned this ride I didn't want to be riding on gravel in the dark, but I have since changed my mind. I'd rather ride a single track mountain trail on a skinny tire road bike with a blind fold than go through that US 2 gauntlet again!
Everybody got into Whitefish safely, much to my relief. As Karel and I were passing through Coram, we met several emergency vehicles running full speed in the opposite direction. My heart sank as I was afraid it was on of our brevet riders. But it turned out not to be-I still don't know what the emergency was. I hope everybody was okay.
I was really absent minded at the start for some reason, first leaving without my bike computer, which Brenda brought to me right after the start, and also forgetting to attach my tire pump. What are the odds that the one rider who doesn't have a pump gets the flat tires? I can attest that it's 100%. I got my first flat on the smoothest road I had ever ridden, a few miles from Lake McDonald Lodge. I felt the tell tale bounce on my back wheel and announced to Karel and Joshua, who I was riding with, to go ahead to the lodge I'd change the tube and meet up with them. They were just out of site when I realized I had no pump! No panic, I knew there were others still coming, and soon after getting the wheel off, Norm came along and lent me his pump. That flat bugged me all morning because I couldn't find a definitive cause-so I was half expecting it to go flat again. I pumped some more air in with Joshua's pump halfway up the climb and all seemed okay so I eventually quit worrying. But just before dark on the descent one mile from West Glacier I hit a rock just right and knew immediately that I had pinched the tube. Sure enough a few seconds later the tire was flat again, this time just as Karel disappeared around the bend. I walked to a turnout and waited for Joshua, who was going a little slower due to knee pain. But before he came along Brenda drove up after providing "neutral rolling support" to everybody. She had my floor pump and my frame pump in the car and also a report that all riders were doing well (I hadn't seen anyone other than Joshua and Karel since that morning so I was very happy to hear this). Just as I was pumping back up, Joshua came rolling down the hill soon followed by Teresa and David. We had a happy reunion in West Glacier. So now I had my pump, but slowly began to realize I had no more good tubes-just the punctured ones and a patch kit. Karel stayed close the rest of the way and fortunately I had no more problems.
Many thanks to everyone who came out. It was really neat to have riders from other states join us and to have Joshua back for his second brevet after doing the 200K a couple of weeks ago. A special thank you to Karel for his detailed ride report from the previous week. He warned us about the road construction, pointed out where the best places to get food and drink were, and advised us about the danger on US 2. And finally, a big thanks to my wife Brenda for getting up extra early to take care of the paperwork at the start and checking on everybody in the early evening. I could not do this RBA thing without her!